FILMSJANUARY 2016

(Wood 1935) A Night at the Opera
(Leon­vi­ola 1963) Thor and the Ama­zon Women [Le glad­i­atrici]
(Rob­bins 1978) Corvette Sum­mer
(Hart­ley 2014) Elec­tric Booga­loo: The Wild, Untold Story of Can­non Films
(Gor­don 1977) Empire of the Ants
(Arnold 1965) Perry Mason: Ep.227 ― The Case of the Ther­mal Thief
(Sil­ver­man 1995) The Simp­sons: Ep.118 ― Homie the Clown
(Archer 1995) The Simp­sons: Ep.119 ― Bart vs. Aus­tralia
(Kalmanow­icz 1980) The Chil­dren
(Kirk­land 1995) The Simp­sons: Ep.120 ― Homer vs. Patty and Selma
(Diet­ter 1995) The Simp­sons: Ep.121 ― A Star is Burns
(Bradley 1963) The Mad­men of Man­do­ras
(Hibbs 1965) Perry Mason: Ep.228 ― The Case of the Golden Venom
(Ball 2015) Maze Run­ner: The Scorch Tri­als
Read more »

First-time listening for January 2016

27182. (Cristóbal de Morales) Offi­cium defunc­to­rum Missa pro Defunc­tis
27183. (Alonso Lobo) Motet: Versa es in luc­tum
27184. (Ed Sheeran) You Need Me EP
27185. (A$AP Rocky) Live Love A$AP
27186. (Moody Blues) The Mag­nif­i­cent Mood­ies
27187. Eight Lamas from Drepung: Tibetan Sacred Tem­ple Music
27188. (Miranda Lam­bert) Kerosene
27189. (Zac Brown Band) Great­est Hits So Far…
27190. (Adele) 21
27191. (Daniel Mer­ri­weather) Water and Flame [sin­gle] [f. Adele]
27192. (Lit­tle Big Town) Lit­tle Big Town
27193. (Nei­d­hart von Reuen­thal) Sumer deiner suzzen wunne Read more »

READINGJANUARY 2016

26545. (Frs. Lim­bourg & Jean Colombe) Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry [1412–1489]
26546. (Patrick Vin­ton Kirch) The Lapita Peo­ples: Ances­tors of the Oceanic World
26547. (Mil­jana Radi­vo­je­vić, et al) On the Ori­gins of Extrac­tive Met­al­lurgy: New Evi­dence
. . . . . . from Europe [arti­cle]
26548. (Jean-Paul Gagnon) Non-human Democ­racy: Our Polit­i­cal Vocab­u­lary Has No Room
. . . . . . for Ani­mals [arti­cle]
26549. (Richard Bel­lamy) The Para­dox of the Demo­c­ra­tic Prince: Machi­avelli and the Neo–
. . . . . . Machi­avel­lians on Ideal The­ory, Real­ism, and Demo­c­ra­tic Lead­er­ship [arti­cle draft]
26550. (Brian M. Fagan) The Jour­ney from Eden
26551. (Fed­erico Lugli) La mum­mia nelle far­ma­copee medio­e­vali [arti­cle]
26552. (Julian Thomas) House Soci­eties and Found­ing Ances­tors in Early Neolithic Britain
. . . . . . [arti­cle] Read more »

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽdaUsu­ally, I don’t list a book as “read” unless I read the whole thing, but this is a spe­cial case. The Très Riches Heures is a medieval bre­viary, famous for its artis­tic value as an illu­mi­nated man­u­script. I doubt that many peo­ple have ever read the entire text, which is merely a col­lec­tion of prayers, mak­ing tedious read­ing. Such books were made for lay­men who wished to bring some ele­ments of monas­tic prac­tice into their daily lives. They pro­vided a cal­en­dric sched­ule for read­ing pas­sages from the Gospels, the Psalms, and lita­nies, and also helped one keep track of the many feast and saints’ days. Most were in Latin, but some were in local ver­nac­u­lars. Thou­sands of these man­u­scripts sur­vive, but a hand­ful that were pro­duced for wealthy nobles are spec­tac­u­larly illu­mi­nated. The one pro­duced for the Duc de Berry is con­sid­ered to be one of the prin­ci­pal mas­ter­pieces of medieval art. It is some­times said to be the most valu­able book in the world.

16-01-24 READ Heures 3
The copy I have is a fac­sim­ile of the orig­i­nal man­u­script, and even for some­one famil­iar with medieval French, the script used in the mid­dle ages is very dif­fi­cult for a mod­ern reader to get used to [see the sam­ple in the image below]. I could not find a trans­la­tion of the text, or a ver­sion in mod­ern French, so I con­tented myself with read­ing a ran­dom assort­ment of pages to get the feel of it. It is, after all, as visual art that the book has its fame. The book was begun in 1412, com­mis­sioned by Jean duc de Berry from three Lim­bourg broth­ers, Dutch artists who worked in the court of Bur­gundy. All three died of the plague (along with their patron) four years later, with the work uncom­pleted. More illus­tra­tions were added over the next few decades, by an unknown artist and by Jean Colombe (c.1430–1493). It remained obscure until the 19th cen­tury, when it left pri­vate hands and became rec­og­nized as a masterpiece.

16-01-24 READ Heures 4
Quite apart from being extra­or­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful, the book is a treasure-trove of visual imfor­ma­tion about medieval soci­ety, because it includes depic­tions of peas­ant life (ide­al­ized) as well as the activ­i­ties of the aris­toc­racy. For this rea­son, some of the images — notably those from the cal­en­dri­cal por­tion [the first one shown here] — have been often repro­duced as cov­ers and illus­tra­tions for books on medieval his­tory.
16-01-24 READ Heures 5But I strongly rec­om­mend that you down­load the images from Wikipedia Com­mons. This is a slow process, as you must indi­vid­u­ally down­load 425 files if you want to have the whole book. Most peo­ple will be con­tent with the full-page illus­tra­tions and some of the more ornate text pages. There are dozens of unfa­mil­iar, sel­dom repro­duced images that will daz­zle you.

Some Thoughts on a Year of Reading

16-01-02 READING picIt’s been an aver­age year of read­ing. 160 books and about 500 aca­d­e­mic papers, arti­cles, short sto­ries and other short items. His­tory and anthro­pol­ogy dom­i­nated the book read­ing, as usual, with an empha­sis on Aus­tralia, the Pacific, the Cana­dian North and West, and the ideas of 19th cen­tury Cana­dian demo­c­ra­tic reform­ers. I became par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by the 19th cen­tury con­vict colonies of Aus­tralia and the French Pacific pos­ses­sions, and I ampli­fied pre­vi­ous read­ings (such as Robert Hughes ven­er­a­ble The Fatal Shore, and the eye-opening but lit­tle known Australia’s Birth­stain, by Babette Smith). Thomas Keneally, giv­ing Hughes a run for his money in A Com­mon­wealth of Thieves, cov­ers the gen­eral sub­ject with extra­or­di­nar­ily vivid prose, and Siân Rees makes a closer case study in The Float­ing Brothel — The Extra­or­di­nary True Story of an Eigh­teenth– cen­tury Ship and Its Cargo of Female Con­victs. Read more »

FILMSDECEMBER 2015

(Lam­bert 2011) Mega Python vs. Gatoroid
(Groen­ing & Mirkin 1993) The Simp­sons: Ep.88 ― Bart’s Inner Child
(Moore 1964) Perry Mason: Ep.210 ― The Case of the Tan­dem Tar­get
(Marks 1964) Perry Mason: Ep.211 ― The Case of the Ugly Duck­ling
(Rob­son 1946) Bed­lam
(Groen­ing & Mirkin 1993) The Simp­sons: Ep.89 ― Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood
(Don­ner 1964) Perry Mason: Ep.212 ― The Case of the Miss­ing But­ton
(Dante 2010) Trail­ers from Hell: Joe Dante on The Invis­i­ble Ghost
(Lewis 1941) The Invis­i­ble Ghost
(Howard 1941) Six-Gun Gold
(Groen­ing & Mirkin 1993) The Simp­sons: Ep.90 ― The Last Temp­ta­tion of Homer
(Keaton & St. Clair 1922) The Black­smith
(New­brook 1973) The Asphyx Read more »

First-time listening for December 2015

27149. (Ferde Grofé) Hud­son River Suite
27150. (How To Dress Well) Love Remains
27151. (Leon­i­nus [Leo Léonin]) Messe du Jour de Noël
27152. (Nathan Chan & ThatVi­o­laKid) “Hello” [Adele cover]
27153. (Young Thug) Barter 6
27154. (tUnE-yArDs) Nikki Nack
27155. (Du Mingxin) Sym­phony “The Great Wall”
27156. (Bran­don Flow­ers) The Desired Effect
27157. (Girls At Our Best!) Plea­sure
27158. (Charles Min­gus) Charles Min­gus Group with Konitz & Cello Read more »

READINGDECEMBER 2015

26510. (Jonathan Safran Foer) Extremely Loud & Incred­i­bly Close
26511. (Philipp W. Stock­ham­mer, et al) Rewrit­ing the Cen­tral Euro­pean Early Bronze Age
. . . . . Chronol­ogy: Evi­dence from Large-Scale Radio­car­bon Dat­ing [arti­cle]
26512. (Robert M. Kerr) Coït sacré ou deuil rit­uel? Quelques remar­ques prélim­i­naires sur
. . . . . . l’apthéose chez les Phéni­ciens [arti­cle]
26513. (Patri­cia E. Roy & John Herd Thomp­son) British Colum­bia — Land of Promises
. . . . . . [Oxford Illus­trated His­tory of Canada, vol. 5]
26514. (Mar­garita Diaz-Andreu; Car­los Gar­cia Ben­ito & Tomasso Mat­ti­oli) Arqueoacús­tica,
. . . . . . un nuevo enfoque en los estu­dios arque­ológi­cos de la penín­sula Iber­ica [arti­cle]
26515. (Dim­itrij Mlekuž) Archae­o­log­i­cal Cul­ture, Please Meet Yoghurt Cul­ture: Towards a
. . . . . . Rela­tional Archae­ol­ogy of Milk [arti­cle]
26516. (Gly­nis Rid­ley) The Dis­cov­ery of Jeanne Baret — A Story of Sci­ence, the High Seas,
. . . . . . and the First Woman to Cir­cum­nav­i­gate the Globe
26517. (Mark Leyner) The Teth­erballs of Bougainville Read more »

Mbongwana Means Change

15-12-28 LISTENING Mbongwana Star

Mbong­wana Star

I fell in love with African pop music long ago, in Nige­ria, dur­ing the heady days of Vic­tor Owaifo, Dele Abio­dun and King Sunny Adé (whose hand I got to shake in Toronto, many years later). I’ve tried to fol­low it ever since, but there is sim­ply too much to keep track of. Africa pro­duces wave after wave of new music, the hotspots shift­ing back and forth from region to region. Kin­shasa is a hotspot, lately.

Mbong­wana Star is tak­ing African pop in a new direc­tion with the release this year of From Kin­shasa. Mbong­wana actu­ally means “change” in Lin­gala, and the change is appar­ent. Musi­cians in the Congo* have long been in a groove whose out­side influ­ences were pri­mar­ily reg­gae, souk­ous and clas­sic rhyhm and blues. From Kin­shasa is quite dif­fer­ent. It has a spacy, almost psy­che­delic sen­si­bil­ity that pulls influ­ences from punk and elec­tron­ica, and has an ambi­ence some­thing like the sci­ence fiction-motown exper­i­ments that George Clin­ton made back in the 1970s. This amount of inno­va­tion is all the more remark­able because the founders of the band, Yakala “Coco” Ngam­bali and Nsi­tu­vuidi “Theo” Nzonza, are men in their six­ties, con­fined to wheel­chairs, and vet­er­ans of the brief celebrity of Staff Benda Bilili.

15-12-28 LISTENING Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili was a freak suc­cess a few years ago. It emerged from the slums of Kin­shasa, and was com­prised of four elderly men who had been con­fined to impro­vised tricycle-wheelchairs by child­hood polio, accom­pa­nied by a teenager who played an elec­tric lute that he had hand-made from scraps. They appeared periph­er­ally in a French doc­u­men­tary on Kinshasa’s slum life and music scene called Jupiter’s Dance in 2006. Four years later, the same pro­duc­ers and direc­tors made a slicker doc­u­men­tary focused on them, which was a hit at Cannes and made them overnight stars in Europe. What fol­lowed was the clas­sic tragi­com­edy of instant suc­cess. They toured the world, giv­ing hun­dreds of con­certs, released two fine albums, Très très fort (2009) and Bouger le Monde! (2012). They made a for­tune on paper, but the money evap­o­rated in the unfa­mil­iar maze of con­tracts, hangers-on, per diems, and tour­ing costs that plague the global music indus­try, and which they were unequiped to nav­i­gate. At one point, they found them­selves pen­ni­less in Trinidad, with no gig, no place to stay, and no air­fare home. Finally, the band broke up with the usual con­fu­sion and ran­cour. But the two albums they issued are fine exam­ples of the Kin­shasa sound, lively and entertaining.

Ngam­bali and Nzonza did not give up, how­ever. They returned to Kin­shasa and dug up some young musi­cians back in their old neigh­bour­hood. They found per­cus­sion­ist Randy Makana Kam­bal­aya in a shel­ter for the dis­abled, a young street urchin known only as “Sage” who played vibes, and Jean-Claude Kam­ina Mulodi, a bril­liant gui­tarist. Mbong­wana Star was born, and they were open to new musi­cal influ­ences, for the Staff Benda Bilili vet­er­ans had been exposed to a lot of stuff in their world tour, and absorbed it with inter­est. Con­nect­ing with an expe­ri­enced Irish pro­ducer, Doc­tor L, famil­iar with the African scene but also savvy in the music busi­ness, put them back on track. While the two ear­lier albums are good stuff, worth repeated lis­ten­ing, From Kin­shasa is some­thing entirely new, and I’ve been play­ing it over and over again with pleasure.

— * the for­mer Bel­gian Colony, pre­vi­ously called Zaire, not the Congo Repub­lic, a for­mer French colony next door to it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015 — Pride

15-12-20 BLOG Ministers & Syrian refugees

Canada’s Cab­i­net Min­is­ters of Immi­gra­tion (John McCal­lum), Defense (Har­jit Saj­jan), and Health (Jane Philpott) with Syr­ian refugee children.

I’m a cur­mud­geony cynic, most of the time, so it’s not often I get to pro­claim that I’m proud of my coun­try. But the behav­iour of Cana­di­ans in the last week has filled me with pride. Last month, I posted a let­ter I sent to my Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, ask­ing that the com­mit­ment to admit­ting Syr­ian refugees to Canada be expanded to greater num­bers. My sen­ti­ments seem to be shared by most Cana­di­ans, but that is not the case else­where.

In the United States, the major­ity of politi­cians (all Repub­li­cans, of course, but many Democ­rats, too) have decided to be pals with ISIS, col­lab­o­rat­ing in their attroc­i­ties by mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for their vic­tims to find refuge. The March­ing Morons have tri­umphed, and there have been numer­ous acts of ter­ror­ism against inno­cent peo­ple, encour­aged and abet­ted by Fox Pravda and the usual Con­ser­v­a­tive scumbags.

My friend Filip Marek, in Prague, sends me dis­tress­ing news items. Miloš Zeman, the pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic, has been spout­ing vile racist and xeno­pho­bic garbage of the most dis­gust­ing sort — and soar­ing to pop­u­lar­ity for it. He might as well be on the ISIS pay­roll. The news from many other Euro­pean coun­tries is just as depress­ing, if the news­pa­pers I con­sult are giv­ing an accu­rate pic­ture. There are decent peo­ple in all coun­tries who are step­ping for­ward to help the Syr­i­ans, but the depth of nas­ti­ness demon­strated by a very large num­ber of peo­ple is extremely depress­ing and dis­turb­ing.

images

Our Prime Min­is­ter with a Syr­ian refugee arriv­ing in Toronto.

But Cana­di­ans have responded to the refugee cri­sis in a way that glad­dens my heart. Although there was some ini­tial neg­a­tive response when the new gov­ern­ment announced its plan to quickly bring in 25,000 refugees, this melted away as pub­lic sen­ti­ment shifted to sym­pa­thy for the refugees. “Let’s live up to who we are as Cana­di­ans by tack­ling this chal­lenge, seiz­ing this oppor­tu­nity,” said David John­ston, Gov­er­nor Gen­eral (in Canada, the for­mal Head of State) at the Forum on Wel­com­ing Syr­ian Refugees to Canada, which was set-up to map out logis­tics. Groups of every reli­gious creed have orga­nized cloth­ing dri­ves, hous­ing funds, and banded together to spon­sor refugees. The very small num­ber of anti-refugee inci­dents were denounced by the vast major­ity of Cana­di­ans, and the hate-filled cranks have crawled back under the floor­boards and into the sew­ers. There are no politi­cians in any party voic­ing hos­til­ity to the Syr­i­ans. The first plane-load of refugees arrived in Toronto to be greeted per­son­ally by the Prime Min­is­ter (who was cheer­fully hand­ing out sweaters from a car­ton). Sure, this was a photo-op for the newly elected PM, but the footage left no doubt that the sen­ti­ment was sin­cere, and his sym­pa­thy real. School chil­dren and church groups from across the coun­try sent wel­com­ing greet­ings and gifts.

In my blog post, I men­tioned that among the most active in wel­com­ing Syr­ian refugees have been the com­mu­nity of Viet­namese Cana­di­ans. They know all too well the hard­ships that refugees undergo. This video appeared on the web­site of the Man­ches­ter Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/oct/30/canada-vietnam-syria-refugees-video

Yes, it’s per­mis­si­ble for as grumpy a cynic as myself — now and then to be openly proud of his country.